When I first joined Catholic Match a couple years ago, I think I would’ve made a good poster child for “what not to do” or “how not to act” on a singles website.
I still remember the first guy who browsed my profile – it was exciting and nerve-wracking to know someone had “checked me out” online. However, I didn’t immediately click on his profile to read about him. That, of course, would be entirely inappropriate – I couldn’t let the guy think I was over-eager by clicking on his profile after he only browsed mine once! I patiently (sort-of) waited to see if he would browse mine a second time. Only then did I feel it was suitable to click on his. After all, I’m a girl raised in the South: my Momma taught me that a lady waited for a gentleman to express interest in her first…she didn’t go chasing men all over the place.
And browsing a guy’s profile prematurely was kind of like chasing a man….right?
During this time, I never dreamt of doing random “searches” for different age ranges, geographic areas, or other criteria, randomly clicking on profiles in pursuit of my Mr. Right. That was the guy’s job, not mine! My job was to be patient and wait for him to come surfing gallantly through cyberspace and sweep me off my feet with long, eloquent, thought-provoking emails and sweet bouquets of flower emotigrams…right?
Not only did I refrain from doing searches and browsing profiles too quickly, I never ever sent an emotigram unless it was to reply to one I had received first. And when I did browse a profile, I only did it once. If I thought the guy had an interesting profile, I’d often copy the info into a file on my computer, just in case I ever needed to re-read it later – heaven forbid I’d have to click on his profile again. He’d think I was flirting with him, or chasing him! And I didn’t want guys on Catholic Match to think I was a lose woman or anything.
[Toldya I could’ve been the poster child.]
After many months of my calculated moves on Catholic Match, I was over at my friend Janice’s house and we were talking about the scarcity of good Catholic men in our community. She remarked out of the blue: “How about I boot up my laptop and we can browse Catholic Match profiles together?”
I think she laughed at the look of shock on my face. “Janice – you mean you’re just gonna randomly click on guys’ CM profiles?!?” She looked at me with an equally odd expression: “Sure – why not?’
That night, as we sipped our coffee and clicked on profiles, Janice opened my eyes to the glaring misconceptions I had built up in my head about online dating etiquette. She showed me how natural and relaxed and easy it was to be yourself and be normal with others online.
I imagine that most of you haven’t struggled with the degree of online awkwardness that I have. However, since online dating is still a relatively new adventure for many of us, there are several “rules” of online etiquette that we could all probably benefit from being reminded of.
Act Online Like You’d Act in Real Life
One of the difficulties of meeting someone online is the tendency to act and react differently than we would if we were meeting the same person in a physical instead of virtual setting.
For instance, if a guy made eye contact with me as I was walking into Church on Sunday, then smiled and said “hi” to me as he was heading for the parking lot after services, would I stand there frozen in place until he came back and did the same thing for a couple more Sundays? Of course not! I’d say hello back, and perhaps we’d even strike up a conversation. Browsing someone’s profile or sending a friendly emotigram in cyberspace is no different than those initial, normal, everyday occurrences of noticing someone new and interesting in our physical environments.
If someone browses your profile, it’s not flirting to browse right back. If you come across someone whose picture and few-sentence intro piques your interest – then it’s entirely appropriate to click on his or her profile. If you like what you read, send the person a smiley face emotigram and say hi!
The more you can do to create consistency between your virtual and physical behavior, the better you will be prepared to maintain that same consistency if a friendship or relationship follows that initial contact.
Often easier said than done, but don’t follow my bad example of reading too much into small insignificant things that happen online. For instance, if a guy sends a woman an emotigram and says ‘Hi! Nice profile!” that does not translate into “What’s your phone number – and by the way, I want to marry you!” Similarly for guys, if a woman browses your profile, even a couple times, it doesn’t necessarily mean she is sitting in front of her laptop with bated breath, waiting for you to respond.
Many of us need to work on relaxing quite a bit when it comes to online meetings, instead of reading way too much into people’s actions and reactions. After all, we all have different personalities, traits, habits, and ways of interacting…. To judge a stranger’s behavior according to your behavior and your standards of online conduct might be totally blown out of proportion and utterly wrong.
Beware of Going Overboard
While there are plenty of online users who, like me, tend to go overboard in the “cautious” department, there is an equal number of online users who prefer to throw all caution to the wind and go overboard with their online quest for friendship or a relationship.
For instance, if you are browsing the same profile every single day and the person never reciprocates by browsing yours, there’s a good chance you are barking up the wrong tree and need to move on. If you’re sending emotigrams to the same person every day, or multiple times a day, and there’s little or no response…you’re probably just massively annoying that person.
Imagine if this was a real-life scenario. Would you walk up to the same person every day, tap them on the shoulder and say “Hi my name is _________, would you like to talk to me?” and after receiving no answer, showing up at the same place the next day, and the next day, and the day after that, and doing the exact same thing with the exact same result? Of course you wouldn’t! Likewise, if you have tried multiple times without success to get in touch with a specific person online, perhaps that is your cue to seek interest elsewhere.
A Little Feedback Helps a Lot
Enough cannot be said for practicing common courtesy to each other on a singles website. Remember, our goal is acting in virtual reality the same way we’d act and react in any physical environment.
Gentlemen, if a woman comes across your profile and takes the time to say a friendly hello via emotigram or email, it’s always courteous to send a quick, kind response, even if it’s to tell her you’re not interested.
Ladies, if a gentleman shows respectful interest in your profile, take the time to smile back, or send a brief email back. If you’re interested in him – act like it (in a respectful way of course). If you’re not interested in him, I’ve been told numerous times by male friends that guys prefer honesty a hundred times more than a woman who tries to sugarcoat the truth.
It’s a New Skill to Learn…and It’s Worth It!
My great grandmother would never have imagined that her great granddaughter would need to learn, often by trial and error, the rules of online dating etiquette. We live in crazy cool times where we can use the best of technology to find community, meet friends, grow in our faith, and even fall in love. If cyberspace can open a universe of possibilities that much for us, then taking the time to check and double-check our online behavior is totally, totally worth it.
Stephanie Wood is the coordinator of NextWave Faithful, a young adult division of
Family Life Center International
that seeks to motivate, equip, and encourage young adults during
their “transition years” to live faithful lives for Jesus Christ and
His Church. She is the host of “NextWave Live” on the EWTN Global
Catholic Radio Network, and is a frequent speaker and writer on topics
relating to Catholicism and young adult life. Stephanie can be reached